Land & Water Use in the Study Area
Development Patterns & Population
The counties of the Lower Chickahominy have been historically rural but have experienced growth and development pressures in recent decades as urban areas associated with Richmond and Hampton Roads expand. According to 2017 American Community Survey Census data, the total population of the three counties was 100,573. James City County is the most populous county with a total population of 73,028 people. The population estimate of New Kent County is 20,523. Charles City County is the least populous and most rural of the three counties with a total estimated population of 7,022. The map below depicts the distribution of the population in each of the counties according to census data; one dot represents 25 people.
Continued urbanization is expected in the Lower Chickahominy area, especially in James City and New Kent Counties. From 2010 to 2017, James City County has experienced an estimated 13.2% population increase and New Kent has experienced an estimated 21.9% population increase according to data from UVA's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. The Weldon Cooper Center predicts that by 2020 the populations of James City and New Kent will grow by an additional 34% and 37% respectively.
In much of the Lower Chickahominy, residents and businesses rely on groundwater for drinking water through either individual wells or small public or private systems. In contrast, many residents and businesses to the east served by the Newport News Waterworks, including portions of James City County, rely on the natural setting of the Lower Chickahominy area as a drinking water source. Three reservoirs exist in the Lower Chickahominy area:
- Chickahominy Lake - Walkers Dam stretches across the Chickahominy River between Charles City and New Kent Counties creating Chickahominy Lake. Abundant cypress trees and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) provide excellent habitats for fish aquatic organisms; they are one of the reasons for the consistently good fishing at this lake.
- Diascund Reservoir - Located along the New Kent and James City County line, this 1,110-acre reservoir offers recreational opportunities for paddlers and anglers via the public boat ramp at Diascund Reservoir Park in James City County.
- Little Creek Reservoir - Located in James City County, this nearly 1,000-acre reservoir can be accessed via Little Creek Reservoir Park. Visitors can fish, hike, picnic, paddle, and enjoy the playground.
Conserved Land & Conservation Easements
Lands maintained in a natural state protect water quality and natural heritage resources by filtering pollution and providing habitat. Land and water area is included in this category due to ownership associated with limiting development. There are lands across the Lower Chickahominy area that are conserved from development due to public ownership. Some conserved land is owned by non-profit conservation organizations. A few highlights about conserved land in the Lower Chickahominy include:
- Over 58,000 acres of land and water are conserved due to ownership
- Wildlife Management Areas include more than 8,000 acres.
- The 1,193 acres of Cumberland Marsh Natural Area Preserve in New Kent County along the Pamunkey River are owned by The Nature Conservancy and managed in coordination with the Department of Conservation and Recreation as part of the Virginia Natural Area Preserve System.
- York River State Park is located in James City County along the York River. A portion of the park is designated as the Taskinas Creek Station of the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve System.
- Located on 494 acres along the James River in Charles City County, the VCU Rice Rivers Center is a field station devoted to research, teaching, and public service.
- 2,781 acres of local parks span the three counties of the Lower Chickahominy.
Almost 13,838 acres of land in the Lower Chickahominy area have been conserved through conservation easements. Conservation easements legally restrict the use of land for development permanently. The terms of each easement are unique, but generally, conservation easements maintain land in a natural, undeveloped state passively or in a working manner, such as agriculture or forestry. Two private non-profit land trusts work with landowners in the Lower Chickahominy area to protect and preserve land: Capital Region Land Conservancy and Historic Virginia Land Conservancy. Other easement holders of land in the Lower Chickahominy include Virginia Outdoors Foundation, State Agencies including the Department of Forestry and the Department of Historic Resources, James City County through a currently paused purchase of development rights program, James River Association, and Ducks Unlimited.
Outdoor Recreational Assets
The three counties of the Lower Chickahominy offer many recreational assets for human enjoyment and appreciation of the natural resources of the area. Public parks and other public lands present many opportunities for people. Trails often exist within parks and public lands. The Virginia Capital Trail that connects Richmond to Jamestown along Route 5 crosses the Chickahominy River near its confluence with the James River and connects recreational assets in its vicinity. The Captain John Smith Water Trail runs up the James River from the Chesapeake Bay to the mountains of Virginia; a spur of the water trail extends up the Chickahominy River through the Lower Chickahominy area. For those interested in birding and wildlife viewing, Virginia's Birding and Wildlife Trail Plantation Loop has sites in all three counties of the Lower Chickahominy area. Access to the Chickahominy River itself as well as other water bodies in the area is provided through both public and private opportunities.
Some key assets in the Lower Chickahominy area located along the Chickahominy River include:
- Brickyard Landing - This public boat ramp in James City County offers fishing and boating access to the Chickahominy River.
- Chickahominy Wildlife Management Area - This 5,217-acre property includes a variety of habitats for hunting and wildlife viewing, a sighting-in range where hunters can practice their skills, a public boat ramp on Morris Creek for boaters, and fishing opportunities along the banks of the Chickahominy and several tributaries.
- Chickahominy Riverfront Park - This 140 acre James City County park is located just off Route 5 and the Virginia Capital Trail. The park includes countless amenities: campsites, boat rentals and a launch ramp, a 300+ foot pier for fishing, a park store, a playground, a swimming pool, sports fields, and a golf driving range.
- Colonial Harbor Marina - This private marina and restaurant is located in New Kent County and offers boat maintenance services.
- Crawford State Forest in New Kent County borders the Chickahominy River and has a trail that is open to the public. Horseback riding is allowed but requires a State Forest Use Permit.
- Ed Allens Campground & Cottages - This private campground offers a wide variety of family-friendly activities and lodging types. Amenities include a fishing pier, swimming pool, game room, playground, stocked fishing ponds, kayak rentals, baseball field, and a picnic pavilion with grilling stations.
- Game Farm Marsh WMA - This 429-acre wetland area is located in New Kent County along Chickahominy Lake and can be accessed only by boat. Shallow waters and lots of submerged vegetation make human navigation in the area difficult but cypress forests and an abundance of wildlife make this place a true gem.
- Rockahock Campground - This private campground and marina offer a wide variety of family-friendly activities and lodging types including river houses, cottages, and yurts. Amenities include an amphitheater for events, playgrounds, a restaurant, and kayak rentals.
What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently protects specific conservation values by limiting the future development of the land. Land under a conservation easement is still held by the owner and can be used actively according to the terms of the easement, for example, as open space, for recreation, for agriculture, or for forestry. Each conservation easement is unique.
Wildlife Management Areas
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Photo by Will Parson / Chesapeake Bay Program
Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery, located in Charles City County, produces American shad, alewife, blueblack herring, hickory shad, and stripped bass. The fish hatchery recently added the production of freshwater mussels to recover imperiled species such as the James spinymussel among others.
Project Partner Resources
VA Department of Game & Inland Fisheries
Major Trail Resources
This project, Task # 93.01 was funded by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program led by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality through Grant FY18 #NA18NOS4190152 of the US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic, and Atmospheric Administration, under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, as amended. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US Department of Commerce, NOAA, or any of its sub-agencies.